Controversy

Posted on 15th July 2007

I bought the Mail on Sunday today, in order to get the latest Prince album, Planet Earth.

Reading the article in the paper, Kim Bayley, director general of Entertainment Retailers Association, is quoted as saying...

'It devalues the music and the losers will be new artists who are trying to come through . . . Consumers only have so much listening time in the week and if they receive the new album from Prince then they don't need to buy new music and will spend their money on something else.'

Is it just me, or can anyone else spot the absurdity and contradiction of that statement? So if Prince gives away an album, then the fans are getting an album they would have bought at full price for just £1.40 (the price of the newspaper), thus they have all the money left over to buy another album, perhaps by a new artist. It's also possible that some, perhaps those who buy the newspaper regularly, will listen to the album and become Prince fans, thus going out and buying more music. The only real losers are the music moguls who have suddenly lost out on significant profits from the sales of this one album.

Prince doesn't need to worry about the loss of royalities as he still makes plenty from his other albums, and he still gets the royalities when the songs are played on TV or radio anyway. Prince is in a priviledged position as he has amassed his wealth and invested it wisely. His investment in other artists, such as Wendy & Lisa, Vanity 6, Sheila E, The Times among others has helped new artists to carve their own careers. While some may not feel the investment worthwhile, it is still considerably more than any major record company has done in over 20 years.

In the last 20 years the music industry has turned into a industry run by accountants and money makers. The people who were once passionate about good music have been sidelined or pushed out. These days it's exceptionally hard for a new artist to actually make a name for themselves. Hence why many have resorted to selling or giving their music away on the internet. The live music scene for unsigned bands these days is a very pale comparision to the one that existed during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Once upon a time a new artist would be able to work the pubs and club making a name for themselves. A&R men would often scour the same venues looking for potential new talent. If they found someone they thought would be worth investing in, they would often get some time in a recording studio to make a demo, which usually would expand into their first album. Record companies would invest in 4 or 5 album deals with the expectation that the promotion of the artist would build with each album, until they "made it". It wasn't unusual for artists to make 3 or 4 albums before they became a financial success.

As an aside, it might not be so well know now, but Genesis only "made it" in the UK after their 4th album. The record company, Charisma, funded the tours and the records because they believed in the band. However, they were more popular in Italy than they were in the UK. It wasn't until Foxtrot (their 3rd for Chrisma) started to climb the album charts in the rest of Europe, that their popularity started to increase in the UK. They had been growing their fan base by constant touring and word of mouth created a buzz about the band. Chrisma's belief paid off, and the band went on to bigger and better things as did Peter Gabriel, who also stayed with Charisma. In fact technically both acts are still with the label as Virgin bought it ;) In this day and age I don't believe any one of the big four would ever make a similar kind of investment.

When I started as a roadie in the early 80s the only bands I worked with were unsigned. The chance to play pubs and clubs was fantastic and we played most of them. Personally I had a great time, but it was a hard slog as I would be away from home for weeks on end. Unfortunately the network of venues has diminished and the promotion of unsigned bands in the NME and Kerrang! is nothing like what it used to be. The rise in cover bands is heart renching. It seems the fact that people are more willing to listen to something they know, even if it's not done anywhere near as good as the originals, than to take a chance with a new artist. But that's another rant ;)

Getting back to the Prince issue, when record company executives start spouting "It devalues the music and the losers will be new artists", then you know that the truth is more likely to be that the winners are the new artists and the losers are the record company execs themselves. I don't pay alot for my CDs anymore, as there are various sources, including retailers, which enable me to pay less than £10 for a brand new CD. Occasionally I will pay a bit more for limited editions, but a tenner for a regular CD is a reasonable price. I always feel that the price should be affordable for teenagers to buy with their pocket money. It's what I did, and when my pocket money always ran out, I found part time work to help pay for more.

To give Prince his due, this release is a very credible piece of marketing. He's gained many more column inches from this move than he would have got from releasing the album through the usual channels. He also shaken up the dinosaurs, who to be honest need a bit of a reality check.

As for the album itself, personally I don't think Prince has ever done a bad album, although I wasn't particularly enthused about the Batman album, but it was still a great album. Planet Earth isn't as stunning as perhaps Gold or 1999, but it is still a good album. The interesting thing I get from the album is how different each track is from another. Each track is very definitely Prince, but they all hint at the several styles he's used on various albums over the last 15 years or so. My first thought was that this is an album release similar to The Vault, which was a collection of songs that never got on an album, but I think in this case the album is simply a collection of random ideas and experiments that he has been working on. I like the album, especially the "single" Guitar, but I would have to confess it wouldn't have been an album I would normally have rushed out to buy on the day of release, but would probably have shopped around for a few months down the line.

I don't expect other artists to ever follow suit, and if they did I wouldn't expect it to have the same impact. I've a great respect for Prince, particularly during the Symbol years. He stood up to the record companies because he believes that the artists should have control over their own music. At the time he was much derided, but those of us who have worked in the music industry can understand the frustration he felt. This instance is another example of Prince ensuring the record company understands he's calling the shots. It's a shame that other artists don't have that control, but at least when they get to be in a position like Prince, they know they can stand up for themselves.

I have always believed that the artists should have control over their output. Unfortunately record companies get involved and decide that they know better. Some artists however, know their audience far better than that or are willing to take risks. Prince is one such artist who does the latter and understands the former. If only there were more like him.

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of Prince's first album being released. Planet Earth is his 38th album of studio recordings. It kind of puts to shame some of those bands that take 5 years or more to put together sub-standard albums and endless repackaging of tour videos to take more and more money from their fans. And if a certain San Franciscan metal band with a Danish drummer comes to mind, then we're on the same wavelength. Judging from Prince's prolific output he should be releasing his 40th album in time for the 30th anniversary celebrations. I'm looking forward to it. I just wish I was able to go and see one of the dates on the Earth Tour. The ticket price of £31.21 is certainly value for money when you consider he gives away albums to everyone who attends the gig.

Comments

Scandalous Sex Suite

I really liked the Batman music - though that might just be because it was realeased around the time I was first starting to listen to Prince. Reading this I've just gone and checked to see if I was going to be in London when Prince was playing. Although I'm going to be there around the right time he isn't playing on any of the nights I'm staying in London.

Posted by Karen on Monday, 16th July 2007


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